There is a growing number of smart virtual assistants in the digital world today and almost all of them have one thing in common. Most have female-sounding or even unambiguously female names. Some, like Google Assistant, have a non-human name but, while you can change the voice, its still defaults to female. Many have decried this perpetuation of gender roles in the tech industry and Voicera, the startup that’s making one of the most advanced in-meeting assistants in the market, is taking steps to break away from that culture.
Technically, its assistant’s name is the Enterprise Virtual Assistant. Whether that technical name came first or not, we may never know but Voicera owns up to the oversight that its Eva acronym was easily interpreted to be female. In fact, Voicera’s own materials portrayed it as a “she”. The company’s users made their concerns known and Voicera has taken steps to correct that.
It might be too late to change the name or brand but it’s not too late to change its representation. To dispel the image of EVA (no longer “Eva”) as female, Voicera has decided to give the disembodied voice a body, that of a gender-neutral robot, particularly a floating robot head. Voicera has also switched EVA’s voice to be male by default though still leaves the final choice to users. Voicera has also taken the opportunity to update its website and marketing materials to reflect the new face and the new voice of EVA.
It isn’t all about changing the past though. Voicera is also looking forward to the future where EVA, in its new form, will have a more visible presence in meetings. Quite literally too. In video calls, the in-meeting assistant will actually be a participant you will be able to see, giving live transcriptions and tips in real-time. During those meetings, it will also be able to schedule reminders at your request. And if you did fail to invite EVA to your meeting, you will soon be able to upload your own recording and EVA will still transcribe and take notes for you.
The new Live Dial feature, meanwhile, integrates Voicera into direct person-to-person phone calls, automatically taking notes during conversations. A new Reminders feature will make scheduling a follow-up more straightforward, using speech recognition during the conversation.
Together with the redesign, the company hopes that the AI-powered assistant will not only be more useful but also more approachable and acceptable to users. Its core purpose hasn’t changed but just because it behaves like an office assistant doesn’t mean it has to be tied to a specific gender to do so.